by Kerry Bolton

Following is a complaint addressed to the Human Rights Commission in regard to the Race Relations commissioner Mr Meng Foon, and the reply from the commission. It concerns the brouhaha misrepresented by the news media and other parties in regard to a council meeting in February, where it was alleged that a Maori haka party was subjected to racial abuse by Kapiti residents. If this now seems belated news, it is because the Human Rights Commission took over half a year to reply, after two complaints to the Ombudsman’s office in July and October. My complaint is primarily that Mr Meng Foon went hastily with His Worship K. Gurunathan to “apologize” for the supposed racial abuse the students encountered, without attempting to ascertain the legitimacy or context of the allegations. 

I also wanted to draw attention to the bigoted, inflammatory and threatening material published by an Otaki artist, which apparently does not fall within the jursidiction of the HRC.  This gentleman bizarrely claimed that a ‘far right group’ had attended the council meeting and perpetrated the alleged ‘racial abuse.’ There was much bravado by this chap and sundry others about how they would physically assault these supposed ‘child abusers’.  (In the case of Beach Radio FM the supposed victims became “little children doing a poi dance”). 

My response had originally been to contact the police and ask the community constable to arrange a meeting between this individual and myself, but the police could not be bothered. The Human Rights Commission has offered to arrange such a meeting. However, I doubt that he is the type with whom one can reason; he was quick to make very silly claims, with the backing of the Maori Party MPs, who likewise knew absolutely nothing of the matter other than seeing it as an opportunity to mouth-off.

Nonetheless, if there are those who still feel aggrieved by these calls for violence, who would be interested in meeting with this chap to try and explain the actual situation, I would be willing to participate.


24 May 2021

Dr Paul Hunt

Chief Human Rights Commissioner

P O Box 6751 

Victoria St., West Auckland 1142

Dear Dr Hunt

I refer to a Stuff report, 20 March 2021, online and in The Dominion Post and Kāpiti Observer. According to this report, Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, and Kāpiti Mayor K Gurunathan, visited Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Rito, Otaki. Mr Gurunathan ‘apologised’ for alleged events at a Kāpiti Council meeting on 25 February, after KCDC received a complaint from Te Kura Kaupapa Maori.

My wife and I were present at the Council meeting. While Stuff et al, and those involved with Te Kura, including teachers, have alleged ‘racism’, nothing seems to have been undertaken to ascertain whether there are other perspectives. 

Complaint

I am writing to complain about Mr Meng Foon’s intervention into the ‘Gateway’ public forum meeting of 25 February and issues arising therefrom.  

First, I seek an explanation as to why your office should intervene in a matter without checking basic facts, such as whether the words complained of were actually spoken, or were mis-heard? Mr Meng Foon in effect found a resident or residents of Kāpiti guilty of using offensive racist language of such an outrageous nature it demanded a personal trip to a school. Please list all such similar immediate interventions. 

Second, by his actions Mr Foon in effect whipped up an outpouring of racial hatred. With the imprimatur of his office’s presumptuous guilty finding against unidentified ratepayer(s) some people appear to have felt they should support Mr Meng Foon by expressing their views as to suitable punishments of a vigilante nature. 

Third, obviously since Mr Meng Foon has such a close ear to the ground that he could go to Otaki so promptly, he should have been aware of the racial abuse triggered by the mis-reporting of the haka party being ‘little children’, which would offend most people, and issued a correction to defuse the situation. 

Fourth, Mr Meng Foon should have sought background information that would have disclosed that the Mayor had broken the convention that public speaking time is for residents to have just 3 minutes, by turning the meeting into a staged show with 30 minutes of Maori culture. He may have then questioned whether the Mayor was manipulating iwi, so that opponents of the ‘Gateway’ project could be characterised as ‘racists’

Fifth, I request that you examine the actions of the Mayor in using culture and race to advance his political agenda, thereby sparking the subsequent outpourings. It seems that the haka group were misled into thinking they were needed to support a Maori cultural centre. None of the speakers making submissions opposing the ‘Gateway’ made any reference to Maori culture or denied its validity. It was all about location, cost to ratepayers, impact on businesses, and loss of open space. Using race as a trump card is surely something that Mr Meng Foon should have concerned himself with. 

While your office presumably received a copy of the complaint by Te Kura Kaupapa, I doubt that you have received copies from KCDC of the initial complaints from ratepayers who attended the Council meeting, which were sent to KCDC prior to the Te Kura complaint, and KCDC’s apology to them.

Other than the complaints from the Otaki Te Kura, and discussions with Mr Gurunathan, what efforts did Mr Meng Foon take to appraise himself of the facts? 

Not ‘racism’ but KCDC mismanagement; health & safety

What did cause concern among the large number of ratepayers seeking entry to the Council chamber was that a majority were ‘locked out’, while the haka party were the largest group occupying the limited space in the public gallery. A large number of seats had been ‘reserved’ for the group and others for the Maori speakers and supporters. Consequently many speakers, including Mr Chris Webber, speaking on behalf of his hapu, waited in the corridor and foyer to be called. This lack of seating caused aggravation prior to any knowledge that the seats were reserved for the ‘three mandated iwi’ and Te Kura party. For reasons known only to the Mayor, he seems to have organised for this group to come and perform, presumably to intimidate opponents of the controversial project. 

The only negativity toward Maori came from the Mayor, who denigrated Mr Webber, several times asserting that his hapu were ‘not recognised’, and ‘not mandated’. The Mayor in effect publicly belittled a respected resident implying that Mr Webber’s concerns on behalf of his hapu and other Maori were of no consequence.  [At the conclusion of Mr Webber’s talk he received applause from much of the audience]. 

The question was not one of ‘racism’ but of KCDC mismanagement and is a health and safety issue. My wife and I were seated to the left of the main body of the audience, and I could see what problems arose, including the palpable expressions of fear by women as the haka became increasingly loud and aggressive. Some of those women subsequently complained that they felt personally and deliberately intimated.  A main point of contention is a chair being pushed into a woman’s legs by one of the haka performers. I saw this woman seemingly plead with the student to stop, but he continued; she stood up and held the chair. It was subsequently claimed that the chair was used to deliberately hit a Te Kura teacher on the head, and the legend of ‘abuse’ of ‘tamariki’ escalated. 

Lack of Enquiry

Mr Gurunathan is reported in the Stuff article as stating that efforts were made to identify those present in regard to the allegations of ‘racial taunting’ but they could not be found. I have spoken to a number of attendees and none of them heard the words complained of. There has been no inquiry as to where in the room the ‘guilty party’ was sitting, their gender, or age.  Rather it has suited the Mayor to beat up a non-event so he can label or portray opponents of the ‘Gateway’ as ‘racists’, who therefore must be ignored on Treaty of Waitangi grounds.

As the appended complaints show, those in the midst of the haka identified themselves to KCDC the day after the event, and apologies were sent to them from KCDC. Yet the initial complaints from ratepayers were consigned to the Memory Hole. To acknowledge them would have meant conceding that there is more than one perspective. I asked three individuals seated at the Council table closest to the public whether they saw or heard anything of a ‘racist’ nature, and all three stated they had not (as did Mr Gurunathan in his comments to Stuff). 

A complainant wished to discuss what she had witnessed but was told by the Mayor and KCDC CE Wayne Maxwell that the matter was ‘closed’. If the matter was ‘closed’ why did Messrs Gurunathan and Meng Foon proceed to Otaki? 

My wife and I had a meeting with the Mayor, KCDC legal representative Mr Tim Power, and Cr Jacquie Elliott, in regard to defamatory comments made against me by Cr Elliott. Mr Power stated in reply to a question from me that he could identify most of the ratepayers who had attended the 25 February meeting. It would therefore have been an easy matter to question many of those present to ascertain what happened, prior to Messrs Gurunathan and Meng Foon going to Otaki.

Mr Meng Foon has been involved, whether consciously or not, in political duplicity behind the façade of ‘race’.  

Opposition to ‘Gateway’ equated with ‘Racism’, ‘Neo-colonialism’ 

In 2020 Mr Gurunathan labelled those who critiqued the ‘Gateway’ ‘neo-colonialists’; hence, it seems that his support for accusations of ‘racism’ serves an agenda. Did His Worship support Te Kura allegations because they bolster this ploy of accusing critics of ‘racism’? 

It seems that anyone who objects to the ‘Gateway’ (on which I have no particular opinion) is regarded as ‘racist’, despite ‘non-mandated Maori’ being strongly opposed. Cr Elliott posted on social media a picture of five women who had attended the meeting to urge a ‘no vote’, implying that the women were ‘racists’. Her retort, when questioned, was that the women had supposedly been part of a noisy group opposing the ‘Gateway’; ipso facto they are ‘racists’. 

Many individuals, mainly women, were already feeling too intimidated to put their names to statements describing what they had witnessed. The volatility intensified to the point of inciting violence.

There are councillors such as Elliott, Handford, McCann, and Gurunathan, who seem to be alleging that any opposition to the ‘Gateway’ is intrinsically ‘racist’, despite the real concerns by individuals who, for example, are worried about its impact on their livelihoods, or the grievances of Mr Webber’s hapu and other Maori. 

Threats and abuse

The inflammatory statements on social media show that much ill-will was incited. Mr Meng Foon gave the allegations legitimacy. The impression in particular was that the haka party comprised ‘little children’. This incited much outrage. On Beach FM during an interview with Cr Sophie Handford, the interviewer, Catherine Scullen, referred to the haka party as ‘little children [repeat, with emphasis] little children, doing a poi dance’ (sic). Cr Handford did not see fit to correct this. I requested Beach FM to retract, but they were not bothered. 

Given this allegation of ‘racial taunting’ of ‘children’ (sic), Kāpiti social media was inundated with sentiments such as: ‘If anyone knows whom this was who spoke like this to our tamariki please speak up they need some re-education’. (Otaki Kai). ‘Watch out Tangata Whenua may react accordingly if this crap continues. Mana Maori Motuhake go take your racist crap somewhere else or be prepared for Wero and UTU to take over’. (Marie Leanne Pokere). 

Calls for violence

Otaki artist Mr Hohepa Thompson posted many incitements to violence on his website, ‘The Hori’, exclaiming: 

‘so we found them these are the people who just happen to be on the “far right” Dale Evans front and center is a known racist piece of shit. And behind him is Kerry Bolton a closet neo Nazi or maybe he’s out of the closet I am not sure? These two and their white wasted group of bull bag mates behind them are the ones responsible for the way our Otaki tamariki were treated at the council meeting’.  

This incitement – ill-conceived in every respect – received the endorsement of the two Maori Party M.P’s . There was no ‘group’, ‘right’, ‘white’ or otherwise. Nor am I a ‘neo-Nazi’, or Mr Evans a Klansman. There were individuals who spoke on why they opposed the ‘Gateway’ project mainly on cost and environmental grounds, which got some polite applause from this part of the public gallery. There was not a single verbal or physical action from that quarter of the chamber directed towards the haka party or iwi representatives. 

There followed many threats of violence on ‘The Hori’ website. 

  • ‘Brown Caleb’ stated that he knows where Mr Evans lives, described the house and named the street. Asked what Mr Evans’ miscreance had been, he replied: ‘Been a racist cunt of student’s is what’.
  •  Maori Party M.P. Ngarewa-Packer commented: ‘Cowards picking on tamariki’. Somehow this become a matter of ‘far right terrorism’,
  • Dionlee Moke commenting: ‘In your face terrorism and the Government let them exist and train with lethal intent’. 
  • Barry Rangi commented: ‘exposed pieces of faecal matter. No room in our society for them’.
  •  Kim Te Patu: ‘Put these heroes addresses up please so we can pay a visit’. 
  • Michelle Mac Manus: ‘Nice work for putting the big bad men who feel the need to cut down little children’.  
  • Lisa Whitcombe: ‘Their behaviour & what came out of their filthy mouths that day to those beautiful tamariki was absolutely disgusting’. 
  • Val Little: ‘These two [presumably Mr Evans and myself] should be on a watch list’. 
  • Jermaine Amituanai Harawira: ‘wheres uncle hone get him on the line…. These guys need a fucking good hiding’. 
  • Chris Everitt: ‘Tossers send them up here to the Ngapuhi sort the pricks out’. 
  • Ariki Gell: ‘Good work. Need to out these clowns. If they have businesses no one needs to support them’.  
  • Patricia Lauhingoa: ‘Bring in the MOBS they want action so beit [sic]’. And so it continues. 

This is what Messrs Meng Foon and Gurunathan left in their wake. Are any of the above individuals threatening violence and hurling abuse about matters of which they know nothing, going to be investigated for ‘hate speech’? Are their comments going to be listed in the Commission’s annual reports and position papers as examples of ‘hate speech’? Are they at least going to be condemned by your office for their inflammatory and threatening statements? 

Gender abuse

A woman who was assaulted by a haka performer — witnessed by at least 6 people — has also been targeted by these keyboard tētēkura with the accusation that she assaulted and abused ‘children’. The atmosphere generated by the mishandling of the whole matter can be discerned from Gaylene Nepia’s Facebook posting:  

‘She needs to be prosecuted for assult [sic]. A conviction against her name will hurt her more, especially if you create a highly visible media campaign, to ensure she gets the maximum penalty. She’s a child abuser! Geez, if she has kids, you might have to involve Oranga Tamariki too’.  

The victim of an actual assault has been turned into a racist perpetrator. The smear-mongering against this woman proceeds with her being cited as the person who supposedly referred to Maori as a ‘monkey language’: Ryan Clare: ‘Don’t talk that monkey language, while also acting like a primate. Ah she’s so civilised’.  Then Paddy Thompson: ‘this makes me want to drive to otaki and one out with the idiot who said such racist talk’. 

KCDC lawyer Mr Tim Power stated during the above-mentioned meeting with my wife and I that the women who had been hurt and felt intimidated deserved what they got because they chose to sit next to the haka party.

Mr Dale Evans, who is an elderly Jewish invalid barely able to walk, was soon after threatened with assault at the MacLean Street Saturday market. Shortly before, someone gestured the Hitler salute to him whilst driving past. 

I raised these matters with Kāpiti police, asking that they arrange a meeting between Mr Hohepa Thompson and myself. But the police could not be bothered, nor were they bothered about the numerous threats. 

An impartial witness

As distinct from the many inflammatory comments and threats made by those not present, I urge you to contact ——————– who was seated in the main body of the audience. —————- who does not have any axe-to-grind on the issue of the ‘Gateway’, ————–emailed me stating:

Thank you for your email.  I’ve been following your pursuit of the matter.  Your earlier article that laid out the facts was incredibly well done and accurate.   What I suggest, is that you could list me as a witness that the HR Commissioner can reach out to. I was there out of sheer interest, I had no skin in the game, so I am, like you an impartial witness.

Summary and questions

  1. It seems that the matter has been used by Kāpiti Mayor Mr K Gurunathan to reinforce his depiction of critics of his ‘Gateway’ as ‘neo-colonialists’, and implicitly ‘racist’. 
  2. Will the dubious scenario of ‘racial taunting’ by Kāpiti residents be written up in annual reports and papers by your office as significant examples of ‘hate speech’, to inflate statistics?
  3.  Will this matter become part of the ‘local iwi narrative’ for the school curriculum ‘local histories’, thereby perpetuating ill-will based on falsehoods? 
  4. Why didn’t Meng Foon make any effort to fully ascertain the situation before proceeding to Otaki? 
  5. The initial complaints were not from Te Kura Kaupapa Maori but from Kāpiti women who felt abused and intimidated by the haka party. However, to maintain the fictitious scenario these complaints and KCDC apologies have been buried. Your response please?
  6. What action will your office take in regard to the hate speech and incitements to violence by Ngarewa-Packer M.P., Hohepa Thompson et al?
  7. This matter will have long-term consequences on community relations in Kāpiti. Please outline the steps that your office will take in healing a matter in which the Race Rations commissioner has played a role? 

Yours faithfully

K R Bolton, Ph.D. 

Appendices

Complaints to KCDC from Kāpiti residents (x3)

KCDC letters of apology to complainants (x2)

Victim’s letter to Waikanae Watch

Witness statement by C B Ruthe

Witness affidavit 

  1. Katarina Williams, ‘Students racially taunted for te reo, haka’,  https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/kapiti/124558584/kura-students-racially-taunted-for-speaking-te-reo-mori-and-performing-haka-at-council-meeting
  2.  Te Kura Kaupapa to KCDC, 5 March 2021.
  3.  Te Kura Kaupapa to KCDC, 5 March 2021, op. cit.
  4.  See appendices: Emails to KCDC dated 26 February and 10 March, and KCDC’s apology dated 19 March. 
  5. Ibid
  6.  Appendices: Letter to KCDC of 26 February, and reply from KCDC, 19 March: ‘we consider the matter closed’.
  7.  ‘Kāpiti mayor accuses councillor of neo-colonialism in spending stoush’, Stuff, 12 May 2020; https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/121475254/kpiti-mayor-accuses-councillor-of-neocolonialism-in-spending-stoush
  8.  Hohepa Thompson, www.facebook.com/thehori
  9.  See appended affidavit, and statement by C B Ruthe who was also seated on that side of the chamber. 
  10.  ‘The Hori’ Facebook page.
  11. Ibid

From: Infoline <Infoline@hrc.co.nz>
Date: Fri, Dec 17, 2021 at 5:14 PM
Subject: 208237 – Human Rights Commission letter HRC:0081014
To: Kerry Bolton 

Tēnā koe Dr Bolton

Thank you for your letter to the Human Rights Commission on 24 May 2021.

We would like to sincerely apologise for the delay in responding to you and for the impact this may have had on you. We endeavour to respond to all enquiries and complaints in a timely manner and unfortunately, in this instance, our normal process has not been followed. We are very sorry for any inconvenience and are looking into the situation to avoid this occurring again in future.

Your letter referred to a Kāpiti Coast District Council meeting on 25th February. You complained about the subsequent events, including the Race Relations Commissioner’s intervention. We can address some of your questions, and for others we feel these would be better directed to the Mayor’s Office.

Our understanding is that after the Council meeting, Mayor Gurunathan got in touch with Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon and invited him to a meeting with the students of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Rito and other Tangata Whenua and members of their communities. This meeting took place on an Ōtaki marae. The Race Relations Commissioner acknowledged that the children of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Rito were hurt and distressed by the situation at the Kāpiti Coast District Council meeting. He and the school community spoke about the issue and discussed how they can provide more education to the community and how to run an event like this in the future.

The Race Relations Commissioner often engages with individuals, groups and communities on a wide range of issues which fall under his portfolio. While we cannot list all his engagements, the Commissioner tries to accept every invitation that he can, particularly from schools, and speaks on multiple different issues through many different forums. For example, the Commissioner has recently spoken with families of children experiencing bullying at school, and convened a hui for school students to share their experiences of human rights challenges involving school uniforms.  

The Commission also acknowledges your concerns about the online comments and the conflict this has stirred up within the community. Whilst the Commission is unable to offer its dispute resolution process under the unlawful discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act (the Act), we can offer alternative pathways under section 5 of the Act. This section permits the Commission to encourage the maintenance and development of harmonious relations between individuals and among diverse groups in New Zealand society.

We understand you asked the police to arrange a meeting between Hohepa Thompson and yourself. We could provide assistance by facilitating a discussion of this type with yourself and other affected members of the community. The aim would be to share information and promote an understanding of the different perspectives. We would follow some of the conditions of our dispute resolution process, in that the discussion would be confidential and voluntary. The Commission’s role is as an impartial participant. We don’t make findings or compel any actions but rather help parties reach an agreement or solution.

In relation to your question about whether these comments are going to be investigated for ‘hate speech’, the Commission has no powers of investigation under the Act and has limited powers to deal with comments like this. The Act covers serious threats to racial harmony, which means it is not enough that a comment offends people, or that it could be termed racist or factually inaccurate – these comments are protected by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, which affirms the right of freedom of expression. 

Only comments and images that actually incite racial disharmony (section 61 of the Human Rights Act, attached), rather than merely offend, are unlawful under the Human Rights Act. The threshold for meeting section 61 is extremely high; the material must be “threatening, abusive, or insulting”, and “likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons in or who may be coming to New Zealand on the grounds of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons”. This means that it is not enough that the material offends people – it has to have the potential to excite hostility or contempt, and court decisions have defined this as a very high threshold.

Therefore, as previously mentioned, whilst we cannot offer our formal dispute resolution process under the unlawful discrimination provisions, we can offer a similar service to help to amend community relations. If this is something you are interested in, please let us know by emailing Hilary on hilaryu@hrc.co.nz.  

Other support for this matter
I understand you have referred this matter to the Police.

You could also contact Netsafe who provide support and advice about online harmful communication. 

Nāku noa, nā Hannah

Mōhiohio Tika Tangata me ngā Ratonga Tautoko | Human Rights Information and Support Services New Zealand Human Rights Commission | Te Kāhui Tika Tangata t: 0800 496 877
e: infoline@hrc.co.nz | w: www.hrc.co.nz